Thursday, January 19, 2006

Not Forgotten – The Story Of Caroline Franklyn

by Mario Puljiz

[Mario Puljiz was a formal student of Andrew Cohen, in his European community, from 1995-2000. He was a friend of Caroline Franklyn.]

Caroline Franklyn was in her late seventies at the time of her death and, having been of delicate health for some time, it seemed of little surprise that despite her remarkable spirit she passed away in London just before Christmas 1999. Caroline was also Andrew Cohen’s most elderly formal student in the UK and had been his devoted disciple for the last seven years of her life.

Caroline was no ordinary woman. Born in 1920 in the Austrian capital of Vienna, she married at 17 and moved to the then Czechoslovakian capital of Prague where she and her husband ran a perfumery on the main Wenceslas Square. After Czechoslovakia was annexed into the German Reich in early 1939, Caroline and her husband became two of the many Jewish refugees who sought safety and freedom in England. They were granted an entry and eventually settled in Hendon, North London. In 1945 Caroline gave birth to their daughter and she carried on working tirelessly with her husband, rebuilding their life in England. Besides bringing up her daughter, Caroline ran her own interior design business and alongside that she also nursed her ill husband for number of years before his death. Some time after his loss, Caroline learnt by chance about J. Krishnamurti. Through the writings and spoken words of the old master she began pursuing a deep and heartfelt spiritual interest and throughout the 70’s and early 80’s she regularly travelled to see him teach in England and abroad. Krishnaji was undoubtedly the source of tremendous spiritual inspiration for Caroline and someone who she greatly respected.

A few years after Krishnamurti’s death in 1986 Caroline came across a young American teacher called Andrew Cohen and soon his passionate call to awaken ignited fire in her heart once more. When he formed his new community in London in the early ’90s Caroline became a member, and soon also one of Cohen’s first formal students in the UK. Caroline’s life was taking yet another unexpected but thrilling turn – now in her early seventies she had a new and inspiring spiritual teacher, she belonged to his close-knit community of students and, perhaps the most important of all, she again felt that tangible promise of waking up in this very life.

Caroline dressed well and much younger than her age; she was bright, lively and warm hearted person who was unafraid of speaking her mind even when that meant going against the "party line" in Andrew Cohen’s community. While at times she undoubtedly got things wrong or was overconfident in her ways, she also rarely shied away from being herself, for better or worse. In a community where adopting uniform views on a range of issues - from matters spiritual to one’s taste in films and clothes - was of crucial importance, Caroline’s views were often different and therefore frequently considered unsuitable. Add to this the fact that Caroline, despite her spirit and vitality, was also an elderly person who could not always keep up with the busy and often exhausting lifestyle in the community, and you will get a picture of someone who was a bit different from the majority of Andrew Cohen’s students.

Caroline’s sense of independence was most probably the legacy of her extraordinary life; to leave her home under life-threatening circumstances, move to a foreign country and start an altogether new life against the background of a world war she undoubtedly had to be both strong and determined. There was also her long and profound connection with Krishnamurti, who taught the necessity of independence from religious organizations as they inevitably grow to be an obstacle to one’s freedom instead of, as they tend to claim, the entrance gates of it. Caroline never physically moved into Cohen’s community and carried on living in her townhouse in the leafy London suburb of Richmond. She was therefore in many ways out of the reach of the long dictating arm of the community on a day-to-day basis. This also enabled her to regularly see and be in touch with her family who she very much loved and did not want to leave behind; cutting off or reducing contacts with one’s family was one of the prices to pay for physically living in the community, as families were perceived as an obstacle to one’s freedom. However, Caroline was at the same time a very devoted student of Andrew Cohen’s and she regularly made a number of long weekly journeys to the community to attend meetings, events and video showings. Her family confirmed that she always spoke about her teacher and her community with love and pride and that in their eyes her spiritual life gave Caroline a wonderful and invigorating lease of life at her advanced age.

The first hint of what was to come for Caroline appeared in January 1998 when, during the Rishikesh Retreat in India, Andrew Cohen unleashed a vitriolic attack on the formal women students in the community. He accused them of being insufficiently devoted to him, manipulative, untrustworthy and therefore in need of a deep and complete inner change. The women were pushed into an endless series of meetings in which they were asked to declare their faithfulness to Cohen, confess to the charges of manipulation and repent their sins in order to come clean. Over the following weeks and months many of the formal female students (including Caroline), verbally battered and emotionally broken as a result of those meetings, were forced to step down and become lay students. Even some of us formal men, well used to intense meetings in which one could be verbally attacked or reprimanded by the group for his perceived egotistical tendencies, privately considered those meetings to be just too severe.

While stepping down meant a welcome temporary relief for the demoted female students, it did not mean the end of their suffering. They were still forced to attend a number of weekly meetings with selected formal women who were perceived by Cohen to be in good spiritual shape. In those meetings, whose supposed aim was to "help" those women to "rise up" and become formal students once more, they were again subjected to the same scenario to the one before – forced confessions, verbal abuse and aggression. Looking back it was of no surprise that Caroline, dejected and of delicate health (she had a condition that would at times cause her difficulties in breathing), never "came through" in those meetings and never regained her formal student status.

Many of we formal students lost sight of Caroline after that. This was a common though often unspoken practice in the formal community – once someone stepped down to a lower echelon they were practically isolated from their former peers and, while they could still attend public meetings and events, they were considered not to be doing well and consequently not paid much attention to. Only later did I learn of Caroline’s heartache at being cruelly sidelined after so many years of deep involvement in the community. But to Cohen and to us she was just another casualty of "the war against the ego" who in essence deserved what she got, the same as everyone else in her position.

Towards the end of 1999 Andrew Cohen came to London to conduct public teachings and, amongst all, Caroline came to see him too. For us students in London it was a rare opportunity to see Cohen in person as he spent most of the year travelling and lecturing around the world. If one wanted to speak to him directly about one’s practice, spiritual development, or any other issue, this was the opportunity. Caroline approached Debbie, one of Cohen’s senior students, after the teaching on Saturday 11 December 1999 and asked if she could see the master privately. Caroline said later that Debbie responded to her in a contemptuous manner, telling her that she was not going to see her teacher that evening. Soon after the exchange was over, Caroline left the teaching venue disheartened and in no doubt that her teacher was not going to see her.

Caroline arrived home after a long drive back to Richmond from Central London where the teachings were held. Her home phone rang and on the other end was another senior student of Andrew Cohen’s, Steve Brett, calling to discuss why she had not waited at the venue to see her master. Caroline’s explanation that she had been told by Debbie that she could not see Cohen, fell on deaf ears. Brett strongly reprimanded Caroline for leaving the venue without waiting to be seen by her teacher, particularly as she herself had asked to see him. Caroline nevertheless protested her innocence as she simply did not think that she had done anything wrong. But Caroline’s response here was undoubtedly another clear sign to Andrew Cohen of how independent and egotistical she was in her stubborn refusal to humble herself and admit her “mistake.” To him there was no doubt that it was Caroline who was wrong here and she needed to be told that in no uncertain terms. After the conversation ended Caroline was deeply shaken and upset. She felt wronged and blamed for something that, in her mind, was never true; she was also dismayed by how strongly she was reprimanded by Brett for her apparent mistake.

The following day, on Sunday 12 December 1999, her phone rang once more and it was again Steve Brett on the other end of the line. Clearly dissatisfied that in the previous phone call Caroline had not "cracked" under his pressure and "admitted her sin," Steve Brett went on to deliver a renewed but far more devastating attack on Caroline. Caroline said later that the conversation lasted for about forty five minutes and that during it Brett repeatedly insulted her with a ferocity that left her completely traumatized. Caroline said that she had to keep the phone handset away from her ear on many occasions as Brett was literally shouting at her from the other side. She was told that she was going to “die a miserable old woman” and how awful it was on her part that she had dared to leave the venue without waiting to see Cohen. Without any consideration whatsoever for her physical and spiritual frailty, Brett again and again furiously scolded Caroline for her apparent egotistical and independent ways that completely infuriated her teacher. Caroline was told that, instead of surrendering her soul to Andrew Cohen now that she was coming close to dying, she was still holding on to her small life and her ego and would die as such. Caroline also spoke about her intuitive feeling that Cohen was in the room with Brett, listening to the latter delivering his attack.

Anyone who has been a student of Andrew Cohen’s will know of his deep need to control all the important aspects of life in his community. Quite literally nothing of significance happened in the community without him either initiating it or giving his clear prior approval. For a senior student to deliver such lengthy and astonishingly brutal feedback to Caroline after her apparent big mistake with her teacher who was also in London at the time, points to only one thing to me. Brett, acting as a mouthpiece, only delivered what Andrew Cohen had instructed him to deliver. This deliberately destructive feedback was clearly aimed at breaking Caroline’s internal defences and getting her to finally realise how detrimental her independent conduct was to her "spiritual progress" and, perhaps even more significantly, how displeased Andrew Cohen was about her "self-willed ways." Disturbingly, Brett was neither the first nor the last to deliver such damaging “feedback.” Many of us were at some point asked by our teacher, himself well-versed in employing righteous anger when giving reflections, to "blast" another student for their apparent egotistical tendencies and we unquestioningly did just that. Made to believe that only complete obedience to Andrew Cohen would bring us enlightenment, we became the clear perpetrators of many devious and dark power games orchestrated by him. Brett in this case was no exception.

However, in this particular case the student spoken to was not a typical Andrew Cohen student – the relatively young, enormously devoted and resilient type who could, in spite of all the emotional ache, survive such fierce feedback, admit the alleged “sins” no matter whether they were actually true or not and respond with a bouquet of flowers and a written apology expressing their love for and devotion to the master. Here the person spoken to was an elderly long term student in vulnerable spiritual and physical circumstances who was still reeling after a deeply upsetting first phone call the evening before. Despite her great spirit she was already shaken, clearly unprepared and not expecting yet another, albeit far more devastating, feedback phonecall. Brett, possibly also in order to impress our teacher which we often tried to do when given any sort of tasks personally from him, delivered an exceedingly harsh and unforgiving tirade to someone who was absolutely not in the position to take it. This is why the consequences and the eventual outcome of this incident are particularly ghastly.

After the conversation had ended Caroline Franklyn was not the same person anymore. Under Brett’s enormous pressure her spirit was finally broken; bullied into believing that what he’d been telling her was indeed true, she took it all to her heart utterly and completely. She later told her loved ones that the "conversation" had emotionally shattered her and that she did not have any willingness to live anymore. A profound sense of alienation, fear and psychological torment filled her soul and she could see no purpose or way forward anymore, neither in her spiritual pursuit nor in her life as a whole. Her health started worsening and she became bed bound within days, a complete shadow of the person she had always been. Caroline’s family soon came to help, thinking initially that it was just an unusually bad attack coming from her breathing condition. However, they soon realised through talking to Caroline that the predicament here was very different. Having learnt about the disturbing incidents with Steve Brett and seeing the immediate sharp deterioration of Caroline’s health that was the result of it, Caroline’s family understandably felt that they did not want Andrew Cohen’s students around Caroline at all. They were deeply worried that any further direct contact with the community would only aggravate Caroline’s already increasingly fragile condition. What they primarily wanted was to secure a peaceful and healing environment within which their beloved mother and grandmother could recover from this sudden and devastating shock. They remember receiving phonecalls from what they recall to be female formal students from the community enquiring about Caroline’s condition. However, the family was uneasy about these calls - they never felt that this interest in Caroline’s condition was genuine and considered it to be an orchestrated information-gathering and damage limitation exercise on the part of Andrew Cohen and his organization.

Caroline’s health kept worsening and on 20 December 1999 she was taken to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London’s Chelsea district, where her family hoped she would have the best chance to recover. Little did they know they were witnessing the last days and hours of Caroline’s life but more than anything it was the state that she was in during this period - haunted, tormented and fearful of further attacks – that shocked them to the core. In spite of the doctor’s and family’s attempts to sooth Caroline’s pain and remedy her spirit back to life, they were now increasingly worried that they were losing her. In their desperation the family decided to contact Andrew Cohen through his London centre and they pleaded to him to send a message to Caroline in hope that a loving word from her teacher could bring her spirit back to life. Andrew Cohen sent a message via phonecall through one of his senior students and his message to Caroline was one of love and forgiveness. By that time Caroline was already largely unconscious although when the message was communicated to her, her eyes opened for a split second and her hand grip became momentarily stronger only to weaken shortly afterwards.

Caroline Franklyn died in the Royal Brompton Hospital in London on 23 December 1999 at the age of seventy nine, only eleven days after the second phone conversation with Steve Brett. She died with a broken heart and in a state of absolute inner terror and anguish, a wonderful and brave human spirit who fought against many odds in her life, and was finally destroyed by those that she loved and devoted her spiritual life to. Caroline’s family believe that she would have certainly carried on living had her spirit not been mercilessly crushed to the point that she tragically gave up on life. Her illness, while undoubtedly serious, was still of a periodical and manageable nature and she had successfully kept it under control in the past.

During that same time I was a formal student in the London community and the described events that were unfolding around Caroline were initially not known to us. However, the message was soon sent to all formal students directly from Andrew Cohen that none of us must get involved with anything regarding Caroline as she had "blown it with him." We were told that this was a great mistake on Caroline’s part and that, now that her health was rapidly deteriorating, we must leave it to Andrew Cohen only to communicate and deal with her. This directive also meant not speaking to or spreading this story amongst the students from the lower community ranks; this rule indeed applied to all messages we formal students ever received from Andrew Cohen. We were never told about the conversations between Brett and Caroline that initiated Caroline’s rapid health decline and subsequent death. Many of us also sensed from the announcement that Caroline was in psychological pain that was so often the result of making any significant mistake with Cohen.

A few days later a message came through that Caroline had died. We were told that her family did not want any of us at her funeral and we, knowing that it had been a process so difficult that our teacher had to personally deal with it, left it at that. Some of us formal students privately felt that at least an announcement should be made to everyone that one of our own had passed away so we could come together as a community in her honour. However, nothing came from our teacher regarding that and, as he had already taken charge of the whole situation and specifically told us not to get involved in anything regarding Caroline, we obediently kept quiet, questioned nothing and in the end did nothing.

I was not the only one who felt in shock about Caroline’s death and who had to suppress all the conflicting feelings in order to obey my teacher’s order not to get involved. This was a type of robotic, unreal response that many formal students habitually employed when dealing with our incompatible internal responses which had to be restrained in order to conform to the "party line" or a directive from above. Our silence here, and by our I mean of formal and senior students, was the perfect response from the obedient disciple point of view but absolutely shameful from the human point of view. I know of one case where a lay student, entirely unaware of the imposed ban, brought up the issue of community silence about Caroline’s death and was promptly and strongly reprimanded by a senior student for being suspicious and doubtful of his teacher’s conduct and intentions. This ensured that any other possible questioning voices in the lay community knew what was going to come their way if they were to bring up the issue again.

The community announcement about Caroline Franklyn’s death was never made and the whole case was swiftly put behind and quickly forgotten. It was indeed as if Caroline had never existed – her name was rarely if ever mentioned by Cohen or his senior and formal students and the full scale of the events surrounding her death was never exposed within the community. Caroline was cremated in the Hoop Lane Crematorium in Golders Green in London and her ashes are buried in the woodlands near Alsford in Hampshire close to the Brockwood Park Krishnamurti Centre. A wreath ring of white flowers was the only thing that was sent from the community for her funeral. A handful of former Cohen students were the only people from all her years spent with him that came to pay their respects. Caroline’s daughter approached some of them after the funeral and asked: “Why did she have to die like that?” struggling to grasp why her mother had to exit this world haunted and in anguish. The family decided afterwards to take the matters further and wrote a letter personally to Andrew Cohen to obtain explanations about the events preceding the sudden deterioration of Caroline’s health that led to her death. He never answered.

Mario Puljiz
London UK

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

“Either I’m Crazy…or…”

A Behind The Scenes Look At Andrew Cohen's Black Or White Logic

By Stas M.

[Note: The following article is by a former long-term and close “senior” student of Andrew Cohen, who was known in Cohen’s community as “Ernest.” His previous contribution to this blog is Letter From A Senior Student.]

“Here it comes”, I thought to myself. As a longtime student of Andrew Cohen I heard him utter these words many times over the years. And now I found myself sitting with a handful of others, in anticipation, waiting again to see where his broad, sweeping logic would take us.

“Either I’m crazy…or there’s something so pure, so absolutely good about me that brings out the devil in people who get close to me. And I can’t help it, but my function is to purify everyone around me from ego.” Andrew made this bold statement on a mild summer evening in August 2002 at a rustic, but elegant restaurant-villa in the village of Tourettes-sur-Loup, Southern France, where with his inner circle of senior students he was celebrating the successful conclusion of the retreat he had just given in nearby Les Courmettes. At our guru's words the table fell silent, save for a few murmured “ummms” and nods of assent.

There was a somber note to the occasion, because at this retreat Andrew had been putting tremendous pressure on his women students to give up what he considered their female “personal perspective” for “the sake of the whole.” As a result, yet another of his close, longtime people, a leader among his “formal” women students had “crashed and burned,” dramatically leaving the retreat (and Andrew) under the intense psychological and emotional pressure. This pressure included being videotaped in a small room as I and another student berated her, at Andrew’s request, for betraying him and for responding to criticism with what Andrew considered a “demonic” expression on her face. (At the time, Andrew was obsessed with trying to capture the “smile of the ego” or the face of the “devil” on video. Andrew had a number of such videos made of students being interrogated and humiliated.) These kinds of extreme, anger-fueled tactics had been used by Andrew for some years to try to “crack” someone’s ego, but lately he had given it a name – he was calling it "evolutionary tension." Those with leadership responsibilities were especially susceptible to Andrew's displeasure and wrathful imposition of such “tension” when they didn't measure up to his expectations. The result was nearly always the same –- sooner or later they would leave. It was at difficult and tragic moments like this that our guru would resort to his flawed black or white, “either-or” argument.

“Either I’m crazy…or…” was designed to force us to complete the Aristotelian logic in our heads -–“our guru is definitely not crazy, therefore…what he’s doing is obviously completely and cosmically right.” And so our response was: “Yes, Andrew we’re with you no matter what!” It had to be. The logic dictated it, since it was never really a matter for serious consideration that our teacher may in fact BE “crazy.” For to entertain the possibility that our guru might actually be crazy, or even just flawed, would be to cast doubt on what we had given years of our lives to, the validity of our cherished spiritual experiences, and even our own judgment and sanity, as well.

It had been hard to ignore the steady stream of committed students in responsible positions exiting the ranks each year--a fact that might have given another teacher pause for self-reflection and re-assessment. Yet for our guru, the pain, devastation and leaving of his students were only proof of the sanctity of his mission. He would often gather together his remaining troops and once again trot out the “either-or” argument. Then there would be Andrew’s scathing assessment of the student who left--the disparagement and erasure from our lives of one or more of our former compatriots and friends (now “traitors”) in “the revolution”.

Andrew’s trashing of this person would have already happened at least a few times prior to his or her departure, while they were still there, present and struggling to deal with the pressure being put on them from all sides. These were the "meetings" where one or more committed students on the hot seat were severely criticized, screamed at and insulted by Andrew in front of the others. Generally, most of these gatherings were held in his office in the Foxhollow compound or in his living room. Still, on more than a few occasions, we would be called to a local bar, where we’d find Andrew sternly sitting at a table, like the Godfather, next to his right-hand person of the moment, greeting us with "I called you here because I have to get drunk first before I can talk to you!'" Then the usual bullying would ensue without inhibitions.

However, Andrew's special "either I'm crazy or…" speech would normally be reserved for meetings after the bloodbath, when the student in question had been kicked out or had left in an emotionally and spiritually crushed state. (See Susan Bridle's article A Legacy of Scorched Earth.) He would then speak retrospectively to the remaining faithful in an attempt to explain the recent painful events. This would allow Andrew, once again, to gain reassurance from us, his devotees, that we understood the "context." Here the "context" meant basically that anything goes in the name of liberation, and that no matter what, Andrew's judgment must be trusted. Remember, “either I’m crazy or...”! Andrew would also remind us that ego death is not for wimps. "Right?...Right!" We would then acknowledge to him that we understood how the collective force of ego is against him at every turn, and that, yet again, he is being let down and betrayed by even his closest people only because he is such a purifying “force for goodness.” In effect, we would be tapping into the primary myth of our lives with Andrew, and as "Greek chorus" in this tragedy, would "sing" to him: “No, Andrew, of course you are not crazy, you are a living Buddha!”

It is important to see that there is no middle ground in Andrew's argument. That is, either he is insane or he is a prophetic vehicle for an absolutely perfect cosmic unfolding of consciousness, divinely inspired and guided by universal principles of evolution. Otherwise, his actions might have to be judged by the same shared standards of human decency we mere mortals apply to vet out narcissistic and even abusive behavior toward each other. His many punitive actions with his students (including the kinds of emotional, psychological, financial and even physical abuses documented on this blog) are supposed to be seen in the context of coming from someone who has no “shadow,” hidden agendas or blind spots, and who is thus only serving as an agent for the evolutionary needs of the student. Andrew and his apologists have criticized this blog precisely for failing to give this "context" to his actions. For without this “context” of an unquestioning shared belief in Andrew as enlightened agent for the cosmic "guru principle", his actions would be seen for what they are, as dangerously misguided, harmful, and self-serving.

There is a truism, expressed humorously by the Italians: “tutti pazzi”— we’re all a little crazy! Yet, it appears to be impossible for Andrew to even consider that he might have some faults, blind spots, a shadow like the rest of us. Having been a close student of Andrew over the years, it seems to me that what is at stake for him in this regard is nothing less than his absolute conviction in the cosmic rightness of his mission, and his confidence in his infallibility and the efficacy of his methods. But, I believe, it is exactly this grandiose position that is Andrew’s madness. This is borne out by the harm he has caused many of his students by imposing on them his brand of “evolutionary tension.” It seems that because he is so busy constantly trying to convince everyone (and perhaps himself, as well) that he is not crazy, his ability to clearly and consistently manifest real wisdom and compassion has been severely hampered. And, as evidenced on this blog, this is a real danger to those who might enter into relationship with him as spiritual mentor and authority.

By recognizing the thinking which underpins everything Andrew does, there is the hope that those who are or have been involved with him as teacher can see through his “either-or” framework to a more inclusive and real picture of Andrew as a human being like everyone else. They might even dare to openly question and test what he says and does against their own experience and values, and consider the possibility that real freedom must include our shadows, flaws and imperfections. Then the question “What is enlightenment?” would become subtler (and more complex), and could be pursued in an open-ended way, free from Andrew’s dangerously closed, authoritarian and self-serving “logic.”

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

So Sad . . .

I recently received the following email from a reader:

Subject: So Sad . . .


I am literally shaking after having read your articles. I am a Sai Baba survivor. In 2000, after having been a devotee for 25 years, I collapsed under the large number of credible allegations of sexual abuse against children.

I must tell you that I thought Andrew was a beacon of light in a sea of slime.

Oh, what are we to do if “impersonal enlightenment” can still see a man go so wrong? If an “avatar” can ruin young children’s lives?

Thank you for breaking your silence. There goes my thinking that we were crafting a spirituality that was appropriate for North Americans. I am so sad. What are we to do?
My response:

It is sad. But I think it is better to know, even though it brings sadness, than to waste years going down the wrong road. So, although it is sad that the teacher isn't what he pretended to be, you could be happy you found out. There is a lot to learn from this.

I think there are still some good teachers out there, some folks who have realization and are genuine. They can be a bit harder to find because I think that they usually don't promote themselves very much. They don't usually hold themselves out as anything special, so they can be harder to recognize. In my opinion, they don't usually demand obedience or reverence, and they don't pretend to be perfect. They also don't try to take away your independence and autonomy. These are just a few pointers I have found through my 30 years or so of relating to spiritual teachers and teachings. Someone else's experience may be different.

I think there is some truth to the saying that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears." I think we tend to find, often by coincidence, the teacher and teaching that is appropriate for us at the moment.

Good luck. And thank you for your response to the blog. I am glad that you found it useful to you.

Warm wishes,